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The government has a program working with precogs like in the minority report. However, what they have discovered is that any solid prediction made by the precogs cannot be changed. They are set in stone. There are some things that are fuzzy and indistinct which can have multiple interpretations, and so it is not known if they are a mutable future or just an imperfect viewing. But if something is predicted, it is set in stone.

What would the government find the most useful for this project. Unlike the movie, any crimes viewed are going to happen, no matter what those with pre-knowledge try to do to prevent it. So it wouldn't be any good as crime prevention. (though it might be good enough to help catch the perpetrators).

The precogs have limited control over what they see, though large events tend to affect them more consistently/clearly. The more personal or closer in proximity the more likely they'll get a reading. The more they try to focus on specific people or possible events, the 'hazier' it gets, up to complete garbage if the precog is under duress.

Merely seeing into the future would be enough of a reason for the program to exist, but how would a government be able to utilize this information for the "good of all". I'm asking as a public government program, not individuals trying to get money or power with it.

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From a purely scientific standpoint, reliable, repeatable precognition would fundamentally change our understanding of the universe. The government, if it was smart, would use them to explore how precognition works...

Does it work when they are in a lead lined room?

What energy fields can keep it from functioning?

Are there any perceivable energies, visible to even the most sensitive scientific instruments, during pre-knowledge viewings?

How many calories are consumed during pre-knowledge?

Slowly but surely, the government scientists would unwrap the mechanism behind precognition. From that unwrapping, they would unlock much of the currently unrevealed nature of the universe. The benefits to humanity from such advancement of our scientific understanding would be wonderful.

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  • $\begingroup$ But how would they apply it to other fields? While interesting, what can the actual ability be used for? $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Mar 24 '16 at 3:21
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    $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon, The bigger question is, "what does it mean that the universe is completely deterministic?" The OP's version of precognition trumps free will. If a precog sees a plane hitting the white house tomorrow morning, and if he is right now sitting on the white house lawn with a nuclear bomb in his lap, he cannot push the button because then the white house wont be there to be crashed into tomorrow. Or maybe he can push the button, but the bomb wont go off. Or maybe the bomb will go off, but the white house impossibly survives. Pre-knowledge rewrites the entire causal universe. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Mar 24 '16 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ Not necessarily. I think of it like time travel. Any actions taken only spur you closer towards the predicted outcome. I go back in time and kill my mysterious scarred enemy, but he survives and is scarred from it. You decide you can't kill those innocent people with your nukes, and try to stop the plane, but it turns out you accidentally made it crash. Or you evacuate the White House before the plane hits and save many innocent lives. It doesn't overwrite free will. In fact, free will is what makes the events happen. But again, how can this ability be applied elsewhere? $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Mar 24 '16 at 3:47
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    $\begingroup$ Why do you decide not to set off the nuke? Because precognition trumps free will. You are making my point for me. As for applicability, try this. Once a precog has seen you in a future vision, regardless of what you were seen doing, you are effectively immortal until the moment that that vision comes true. So you can rent yourself to the airlines as flight insurance. The plane cannot crash or fail to get to its destination (where your vision is suppose to occur) while you are on board. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Mar 24 '16 at 4:12
  • $\begingroup$ Now this has dissolved into a chicken-egg debate. I say that your actions lead to the events in the vision, you say that the vision sets your action in stone. Although, important to remember is the only thing the person sees is the destination, not how you got there. One of those planes could just as easily crash, with you as one of few survivors, then you recover in the hospital, until you leave and the events of the vision take place. Anyway, the OP did ask about how the person's abilities could be used for public good, so you might want to adress that a little bit more. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Mar 24 '16 at 5:19
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If it was found that your precogs can reliably predict the future, this would mean that the future is deterministic. That would also mean there is no such thing as free will.

That means, whatever your government thinks they might gain from this knowledge would not change anything, since everything must be predetermined, otherwise those rock solid predictions would not have been possible in the first place.

That aside, the government would at first try to prevent some of the foreseen event, only to notice they cannot.
After that, they would try to benefit in some ways, for example, attempting to play the stock markets. But they would soon notice that this does not work, either. Things are predictable, so their outcome is set.

You will end up with everybody doing what they damn well please, but that will not change anything, either, since it was predestined anyway.

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There are a few good reasons.

Terror attacks become far less terrifying

While the Precogs might see a bomb going off in a building, killing everyone on the ground floor and collapsing the building, what they haven't seen is the covert operation to track the perpetrators for months in advance, or the fact that the rest of the building has been completely evacuated, or the fact that all the people on the first floor that day had a few months to set their affairs in order, say their goodbyes and spend their generous government renumeration package. The terrorist organisation is dismantled and only one floor of people out of a hundred lost.

It's still impossible to get away with murder

The Precogs see murder: then the perpetrator walks out of the door directly into armed police. The murder can't be stopped but justice can still be served.

Time travel = FTL

It's a bit of a stretch, but if you've got multiple worlds then killing the terminally ill with messages and a universal date written in the background can serve as a method of FTL messaging. Of course, this depends on the exact nature of the precognition and how it's triggered.

Influencing world events

This can be good or bad. If you know a certain event is going to happen (and if the Precogs see it it's going to happen) then you can capitalise on it or stabilise the aftereffects. Huge stock market crash due to the death of an investor? Use it. Pre cogs see the discovery of a huge oil reserve on land owned by your competitors? Buy all the land around it so you're the only one that can exploit it, or start building an oil pipeline ahead of time in order to make the most use out of it.

All in all: even if these pre cogs are giving you random, specific snippets or large scale fuzzy overviews there are ways to make use of it.

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There is a bit of a paradox here.

Let's say the precogs see something that is normally avoidable with foreknowledge. e.g. They see you will die in a car-crash on the 15th of July 2016. So all you have to do is stay away from cars on the 15th.

A movie will often try to get around this with some story-telling trick, like either the prediction was misinterpreted and a mistake was made - e.g. you were hit at midnight on the night of the 14th which is technically the 15th but you thought of as the 14th, or the prediction was incomplete - e.g. a freak accident and a car went flying off the road, through your sitting room window and killed you on the couch - leaving the viewer wondering why the prediction didn't include the bizarre incident of a car crashing into a house.

Reality would be different. Logically, a prediction can only occur of something that will happen, because if you avoid the prediction, then it wasn't a prediction, it was a guess - how did they foresee the thing if it doesn't end up happening? We can't assume that there is some unknown agent trying to enforce the prediction of the precogs by any means necessary no matter what's done to avoid it.

The result? The precogs can only see what will definitely happen even with fore-knowledge, whether that be unavoidable things like Earthquakes & Weather, or just things that someone wouldn't bother avoiding even if they know it's going to happen (e.g. you will go to work tomorrow).

This is still useful though. They will predict an Earthquake, for example, but they won't see how many people are going to die in it, so the area can be evacuated in time. But it couldn't be used to predict crime.

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